British Airways blamed poor lighting at Miami International Airport for a commercial jet overshooting a runway with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his family aboard, but airport and federal officials said Wednesday that the lights were fine.
British Airways Flight 209 from London hit some airfield lights after it landed around 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, but it did not leave the pavement and it reached the gate under its own power, airport officials said. No injuries were reported.
British Airways spokesman John Lampl said the pilot stopped the 747 at the end of the runway because he couldn’t see the lights to the taxiway.
“Apparently they’re doing some resurfacing work and relighting, so the lighting was poor,” Lampl said.
But airport spokeswoman Lauren Stover said the lights were working fine.
“There was absolutely no construction on the runway,” Stover said.
FAA says plane ‘just missed a turn’
National Transportation Safety Board investigators also found that the lights were working properly and that there was no construction, said NTSB spokesman Jeff Kennedy. Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen, too, confirmed the lights were working. She said the plane stopped just past the official end of the runway.
“It was going at taxiway speed and they just missed a turn,” said another FAA spokeswoman, Laura Brown. “It’s like if you miss a turn in your car.”
Airport officials planned to review the runway conditions on Wednesday as a precaution. Bergen said the FAA would review all aspects of the landing, including how the aircraft was being operated, and the NTSB also was investigating.
Blair was among the 343 passengers on the plane, U.S. Secret Service spokeswoman Kim Bruce said. The prime minister receives Secret Service protection whenever he lands in the U.S.
A Downing Street official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk about Blair’s travel plans, said the prime minister and his family were not hurt.
In town to visit Bee-Gees singer
Blair was traveling to Miami to stay with Robin Gibb of the Bee-Gees, according to Gibb’s co-manager John Campbell.
“It’s a private holiday and it’s a private arrangement,” Campbell said. “They are friends.”
Blair traditionally takes a winter vacation with his family while Parliament is in recess. The prime minister’s office confirmed that Blair was on a family holiday but — in keeping with standard government practice — refused to provide details for security reasons. Blair and his wife, Cherie, have four children between the ages of 6 and 22.
Steve Atkins, deputy press secretary for the British Embassy in Washington, said it was not uncommon for Blair to travel by commercial airliner.
The British prime minister does not have an allocated plane, and Blair usually flies by chartered jet on official business and by scheduled flight for his vacations.
Officials stress that Blair pays his own travel costs since an incident in 2005 when he was criticized for taking a free vacation at the Barbados villa of British singer Sir Cliff Richard. Blair has also faced criticism for staying at the Sardinian villa of Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
For the past few winters, the Blairs have vacationed at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik, and they have spent a winter break in the Seychelles.
Passengers on the plane told WSVN-TV in Miami that police and rescue vehicles quickly surrounded the aircraft.
“We just thought there must have been someone on board who shouldn’t have been on board,” said Karen Queen of London.
“The captain just said there was a problem with the aircraft and they were checking it out and making sure it was OK to move,” said Gary Cooper, also from London.